Beating the fuss out of eating
Parents often force kids to eat foods they do not like and meal times become a tug of war and a struggle, with each side putting its foot down
Aditi Garg

Picky kids can drive even the most patient parents against the wall
Picky kids can drive even the most patient parents against the wall. Photo:

Everyone has a unique relationship with food. Some seek solace in it, others eat because they enjoy it, still others eat just because they have to, and then there are some who find meal time very nerve-wracking. Kids belonging to the last category are picky about what they eat; so much so that only a handful of foods find their favour. With so much fuss about food, it is but natural that parents, especially mothers, are driven up the wall.

"Every morning I have to be after him to eat something before leaving but he barely manages to drink some milk. Packing pasta or sandwiches for his school ensures he finishes it but it is not nutritious enough. I have tried adding finely chopped vegetables to pasta and other things but he picks them all out or refuses to eat," says Suman Bansal, the mother of a seven-year-old. She adds, "Even if I donít want to let him sit in front of the TV, I have to give in at meal times so that I can feed him something nutritious while he is engrossed. It is very taxing and I see no solution to my predicament."

Ludhiana-based Dimple Gupta, the mother of an eight-year-old daughter, faces a similar situation. Her daughter makes her run after her for every meal and she says, "Having her finish a meal is a big project as she simply hates vegetables of any kind. The saving grace is that the school prescribes the tiiffin that the kids carry, including green vegetables, fruits, sprouts and others; that way she has one balanced and nutritious meal a day. I really want to understand how she finishes off her greens and veggies in school and creates such a scene at home."

These are not stray cases, rather the familiar story of almost every household. Some find a solution in letting them play or watch TV, while the mother or a domestic help feeds them; others take to punishing them, scolding them or even hitting them. These may work in the short term and the child may eat due to fear but it will only make meal times more stressful for him.

Ruchi Goyal, a clinical nutritionist and dietician, of DietCare Nutrition based in Panchkula, suggests ways in which parents can work within the limiting factors that fussy eaters pose and ensure adequate nutrition. She says, "While every parent would like their child to eat green vegetables, dals and other nutritious foods, it is not always so. Try to complement their favourite foods with hidden nutrition. For vegetarians, make up for protein in the diet by adding soya flour to the roti dough. For adequate vitamins and minerals, grate vegetables to burger patties or add to paranthas. To help build immunity, pumpkin seeds and flax seeds can be added to pinnis or bhelpuri. Milk-based desserts such as sabudana kheer or mango kulfi can give them ample energy, coupled with nutrition in a form that they will love."

Small changes can go a long way in making a big difference to the way your child eats. Focus on covering all the food groups on a weekly basis, even if you canít do it daily. By being less anxious and more aware, we can raise children for whom meals are not stress triggers but stressbusters.

Harsheen Arora, a psychologist from Vasant Vihar, New Delhi, says, "Young children fear new foods and we have to work around it. Meal times become a source of anxiety for them because of many new flavours, textures, presentations and the pressure to finish what is being served. When parents get angry and frustrated, they unknowingly give their child negative attention. Instead, the best approach is to fix meal and snack times for them; three main meals and two to three snack breaks. Stick to the timings, and if the child has not finished his food in half an hour, remove the plate and do not offer anything before the next scheduled meal. By the next meal, he may have worked up bit of an appetite and may eat what is being offered."

By telling the child to finish vegetables if he wants dessert, parents only reinforce vegetables as a Ďbadí food and desserts as desirable. It is important to eat together as a family. This way, he sees you eating different things and may want to try new things too. Let him eat on his own and encourage him when he tries new foods. Instead of forcing him to eat, give him small helpings.

Small changes in the food kids relish, can ensure intake of more nutrients. Kids might be small but they have big opinions about everything, from clothes to food. By respecting their opinion and not forcing our own, we can make them more flexible in their food habits.